Vancouver Theatre Guide

Blog post by Keara Barnes: The City and The City

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 9:30 PM | GVPTA (Administrator)

The City and The City – adapted from the novel by China Miéville

Reflections by GVPTA blogger Keara Barnes

Never have I been more impressed with the intricacies of a pre-show process. Assigned seats, headsets, projections and more. The show certainly sets a high level of organized anticipation, even tension as the mood becomes ominous, almost isolating in semi-darkness, as audience members excitedly and perhaps anxiously await the beginning of the show.

The City & The City is based on a book by British author China Miéville and takes place in, you guessed it, two cities. The catch? These cities essentially occupy the same space, but are forbidden to acknowledge one another. Special police forces, called The Breach, are created to prevent citizens ‘breaching’ from one city to the other. Special areas called cross hatches link the cities, where police are on full alert at all times.

A murder has been committed. Breach has occurred. Police officers from opposing cities must work together to solve the crime. The controversial question is: did the crime really occur? Does breach really exist? The plot, show vocabulary, and backstory are integral to the understanding of the show, and even then close attention is demanded in order to fully comprehend the complex plot. It is a fast paced, exciting and elaborate story line that dabbles in such genres as murder mystery, fantasy and fiction.

The primary motif of the play is the concept of “seeing and unseeing.” This is a particularly relevant subject in Vancouver due to our extensive homelessness problem; a sight many of us “see” daily and just as quickly “unsee’” as we go about our daily lives. The theme is pervasive in so many ways; with the ever constant stream of news dictating stories of struggle, adversity, and corruption around the world, how often do we as citizens or even nations see and unsee? How do we choose to listen and act? Do we unquestionably accept what we are told, or do we make a stand?

This concept is implemented even within the interactive structure of the production; audience members are directed to follow instructions relayed through a headset, participating themselves in the unfolding of events. Aren’t we as a collective simply obeying without question? Blindly trusting a directorial voice? Perhaps. But I’m glad I did.


The City and The City is presented by Upintheair Theatre and The Only Animal, and is running as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, until February 5, 2017. Information and tickets are through

Photo credit: Matt Reznek

Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance  |  Vancouver, BC, Canada  |

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